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Rod Brouhard, EMT  P

It's an AED World

By February 25, 2009

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Spending a little time with the fam at Walt Disney World this week. We're more into the original Happiest Place on Earth (Disneyland) but we thought we'd give "The World" a shot for a change. I miss being able to walk everywhere. Disney World enthusiasts cite its size as an advantage, but I'm not sold on it -- especially after 45 minutes on a bus to get somewhere.

One thing both my wife and I've noticed is an abundance of automated external defibrillators around the parks and resort hotels. The AED count is staggering around Disney World. An article in the Orlando Sentinel suggested there are approximately 700 AED units in WDW's 47 square miles. They are certainly easy to spot.

Walking past another AED every 10 minutes or so got me thinking about how often they are put to use. A maintenance guy working on one of the units said they've saved a few lives already. He also told a story about why Disney is adding so many more units. I couldn't confirm the account, but he told me the company's former CEO Michael Eisner suffered a heart attack at EPCOT and no AED was readily available.

It is public record that Eisner suffered a heart attack and required open-heart surgery, but a heart attack is not the same thing as cardiac arrest and an AED is only used for the latter. A guest died on Expedition Everest with no AED handy about a year before the sudden explosion of units around the "World." I'm more inclined to think that had something to do with the decision although Disney has publicly denied it.

Having the AED units available is a great thing and regardless why Disney decided to sprinkle them so liberally around, they are here and well-marked. However, seeing an AED on the wall is absolutely useless to you if you don't know when or how to use it.

If someone collapses in front of you and an AED is available, I recommend grabbing it and turning it on. Even if your last CPR class was in high school PE more than 30 years ago, the AED will give you some direction. Most adults with a passing knowledge of telephones and enough gumption to try could probably muddle through the use of an AED without training.

The maintenance guy told me that Disney's version automatically calls 911 and gives responders the location of the unit when you pull it off the wall. Giving responders your exact location is enough reason to pull the thing out even if you aren't sure you're going to use it.

To the get the most out of these machines, you really need to take a class. Defibrillators aren't foolproof. Any instructor who tells you otherwise shouldn't be teaching. They aren't hard to use, but there are two things to keep in mind to make them absolutely safe:

  1. Don't push the shock button on someone who is awake. Unconscious, fine, but not if he or she is awake. The machine only sees what the heart is doing and doesn't know if the victim is awake or not -- that's your job.
  2. Don't push the shock button if anyone is touching the victim. When the victim gets a shock, anyone touching him or her could get one, too. Think of a shock as a faulty switch: if your heart is stopped it might start it again, but if it's beating fine a shock could stop it cold.

Having AED units all over the place is a great new trend in public safety, but they can only help you if you help yourself.

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April 29, 2009 at 4:59 pm
(1) Kathy says:

Hi Rod, I’m a little late in catching up with some of your First Aid newsletters, but I just wanted to ask you a few questions about the last paragraphs of this post.

What does an AED do to someone who is awake? Will it obviously hurt them? And someone who is unconcious won’t feel the shock?

That seems like a stupid question, but I never pondered that point before and just wanted to know specifically why that makes a difference. Thanks!

August 18, 2009 at 4:48 pm
(2) Brian Leonard says:

That is a misleading statement in your article. An AED would never shock someone who was awake. The AED only shocks someone who is in Sudden Cardiac Arrest. You cannot be awake and be in Cardiac Arrest. The proper statement would have been don’t apply the pads to a victims chest who is awake

August 20, 2009 at 12:47 pm
(3) Rod says:

Actually, it is quite possible for an AED to recommend shocking an awake victim. To learn more, read Can an AED shock someone who is awake?

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